Sunday, 30 January 2011

My Message to the 1%...

I'm struggling a bit this week, used as I am to my daily diet of Facebook, blogs and tweets from UKUncut about whichever Vodafone branch they have occupied today. My beautiful desktop computer, which is without doubt my closest friend bar none, failed me on Monday this week when the hard drive pitched out and I am now surviving by borrowing laptops for an hour here and there and licking batteries whenever I get bored - which is often.

On my rare forays onto the internet, there is a Facebook group I have seen this week which has made me sad. It is titled as follows: "Doesn't make sense does it?? Homeless go without eating. Elderly go without needed medicines. Mentally ill go without treatment. Troops go without proper equipment. Veterans go without the benefits they were promised. Yet we donate billions to other countries before helping our own first. 1% will re-post and 99% wont. Have... the guts to re-post this. I KNOW I'm in the 1%"

Now, there are a whole host of reasons why this upsets me. I'm going to go through them quickly, because I could rant about this for days, but here goes. Firstly, homeless people may go without eating, but primarily they go without a home. This is a simple inequality and true frustration should be aimed at people who have obtained obscene wealth and multiple homes through self-interest and duplicitous behaviour. Alternatively, you could pick on foreign aid organisations, who are only wasting money on such worthless projects as supplying clean water to fellow human beings. Choose the targets of your anger carefully.

Secondly, elderly people generally don't go without much needed medicines - in fact, quite the opposite. Many are abandoned in uncaring residential homes and medicated as an alternative to being socially stimulated. They are also given antibiotics by the bucketload that they simply don't need - this is why we have superbugs such as MRSA popping up in our hospitals. If you really care about the elderly, do something positive and write to your MP and David Cameron and demand that they increase spending in real terms on the NHS and social care. Believe me, this is a cause that really needs your support. Now, I'll be truly amazed if the '1% who post this message' actually strive to do something constructive.

The mentally-ill do sometimes go without treatment, it's true, but the argument for the increase in real-terms NHS-funding covers this as well, so I'm satisfied that we're all reading from the same hymnsheet. Let's move onto soldiers.

I struggle to see why the UK needs a standing army. We have no resources worth seizing and no enemies who would regard invasion as worth the effort. We continue to kid ourselves that the UK has a role to play in policing the world's fragile democracies, with the irony being that the money we waste on sending young men to be pointlessly killed would be far better spent on social projects to help those in need, increasing our diplomatic standing with the countries in question. Every pound we spend on trying to secure a supply of oil for the next decade could surely be better spent on developing alternative energy sources that could free us from our dependence on the whims of other countries.

This does not change the fact that our soldiers should expect high-quality equipment. However, the UK is no longer a major military player on the world stage, and with the stakes so high, intelligent youngsters considering joining the army should wonder if the country really has their best interests at heart.

This leads me onto the final point I would like to make - the group does not offer any mathematical basis for removing foreign aid. Billions of pounds were indeed spent on foreign aid last year - six billion, in fact. Consider the fact that the UK spends over £700 billion every year - and somehow found £800 billion more to bail out the banking system.

In the context of the world at large, will the six billion we spent on foreign aid last year make any difference? This does not even consider the ridiculous sums the UK makes from third world countries, providing loans and receiving debt interest through the World Bank and IMF, and without considering the social consequences thereof. Haiti is still suffering from the after-effects of the devastating earthquake there last year. Australia, Brazil and Sri Lanka have suffered hundreds of deaths due to flooding in the past few weeks alone. Are we truly saying that we are happy to spend £800 billion on compensating for the auspices of the world's wealthiest and least-deserving, but that we begrudge the £6 billion we give to the entire rest of the human race? Because if we are, we should truly be ashamed.

Monday, 24 January 2011

That's Always Been Tories For Me

(Sung to the tune of Fyfe Dangerfield's "Always A Woman To Me")

They'll devalue your pensions and close all your schools
You'll still vote for them, they think that you're fools
It's all about cuts, that's their philosophy
They don't care for the poor, it's their own fault they're in poverty.

You can give every hour, they'll work you for free
'Cos that is the point of Big Society
If they had their way, they would charge you to pee
They'll rob you like thieves, but that's always been Tories for me.

Oh, they'll look after their friends
They won't tax the banks
They just said that they might
Oh, how dare we suggest
Alternative ways
To put it all right

They're in thrall to big business
They'll sell Royal Mail
They'll blame it on the Liberals when it all fails
They don't care about services, just the money
It's all about profits, but then, they are Tories, you see.

Oh, they'll take care of themselves
They get round the tax laws
They live where there's no crime
Oh, we forgave all their sins
Forgot what it was was like
When they were in the last time

They'll ride through your council estates like a lord
They'll put communities and jobs to the sword
They'll fiddle through fire and ignore the discord
'Cos the things that you need, they're just more things that we can't afford.

They may only reveal what they want you to see
Some may dress in yellow, but they are all Tories to me.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


In times of international trouble and strife, it is vital for morale that local customs are observed and celebrations go ahead in a timely fashion. It is therefore my great pleasure to remind you all that Saturday 22 January 2011 is the date of Piemageddon 2011!

For the uninitiated, Piemageddon is a celebration of all things to do with pie!

On 23rd January every year, America celebrates National Pie Day. Here in the UK there is a proud history of pie but there was no formal way to celebrate until eight years ago, a group of portly visionaries from Nottingham University decided to honour this special occasion in their own way. And thus, Piemageddon was born.

Everyone can celebrate Piemageddon and it's easy to hold your own pie party. According to custom:

1) Everyone should bring a pie to a Piemageddon party!
2) The pie should ideally be homemade, though first time Piemaggedon initiates (and lazy people) are allowed to buy them.
3) Quiche and Flans are not pies and are not accepted.
4) Alcohol is the friend of pie and should be encouraged in social moderation :)

Some parties award prizes for best pie and most novel interpretation of pie! Music should be pie-themed where possible!

Send me details of your own pie party!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Cameron's Glass is Half-Empty

I must begin this post with a simple acknowledgement: there has been so much to write about this week and I have been lapse. Large swathes of Australia, Sri Lanka and Brazil are underwater thanks to flash flooding, with hundreds of lives being lost and entire communities disappearing into the swell. In Tunisia, discontent among the population, inflamed by politically-motivated violence, has seen the loss of many lives and the fall of the government. These are the things that International Officers should write about. The outcome of the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election looks a little unimportant in comparison.

My mind is stuck firmly in the domestic however, as both Red Ed and David Macaroon have put the boot firmly into trade unions this week. Ed Miliband (who, lets not forget, is only in his current role thanks to trade union support) has said that he is 'appalled' at the idea of strikes upsetting the Royal Wedding celebrations. Implicit within that comment is the suggestion that he is happy for downtrodden workers to continue to be treated appallingly by uncaring employers as long as one of the richest institutions in Britain is allowed to continue its activities unimpeded. But enough of Ed, who is a dull, uninspiring and hopefully short-lived alternative to our current unpalatable coalition leaders.

More intriguingly, David Cameron has indicated that he would like to change the law making it even harder for unions to take strike action. The prime minister has suggested he could look at the law on industrial action, amid calls for strike ballots to be unlawful if under half of a union's membership takes part.

There is a mischievous, nay evil, part of me that thinks maybe this wouldn't be so bad. It might make currently disaffected workers more militant, make complacent union officials work harder and generally inspire more activity than it suppresses. But it is still an attack on trade union institutions, and it is worth drawing a parallel with our current democratic process.

In that same Oldham and Saddleworth by-election mentioned earlier, the turnout was 48%, a huge reduction from the last time it was polled. I suspect this has a lot to do with local people becoming disenfranchised from the tie-wearing, public-school toffs who claim to represent them in government. The political parties cited 'rain' as being the reason behind the reduction. Seriously? Do they even live in the same climate as the rest of the UK?

The keen-eyed observer will note that 48% by-election turnout is below the minimum-required 50% turnout that a trade union ballot would need to be legal under the proposed changes. If we take Cameron's suggestion to its logical conclusion, why not make the outcome of the by-election illegal too? Local voters are clearly too disaffected to desire any involvement in our democracy or be able to make reasoned decisions about who should represent them. It would be a deserving punishment for failing to engage with any of the increasingly homogenous cardboard cut-outs that pass for political leaders in the modern UK.

Or maybe the rain is to blame for that, too.

Monday, 10 January 2011


The response to my last blog post was heartening, even if neither of the people who commented on it on my Facebook page read any more than the two line summary. I also added myself to Twitter (@KrisHolt1, seeing as you asked) and contacted the excellent Ari Rabin-Havt about the killings - he hasn't replied and I'm telling myself that this is because he's busy, and not at all that I'm inconsequential.

Twitter is actually trememendous fun. It's like having the mobile phone numbers of every famous person you ever wanted to speak to. Fancy telling Dr Brian Cox how much you'd love to share his universe, or point out to Frankie Boyle that actually he does look like both of the Proclaimers? Easily done. Add them, send the message, and out it goes. If you're lucky (or interesting, as some other people apparently are) then there's a chance they may reply or even add you to their own lists of followings.

I've limited myself to fourteen people (including Norfolk's own Stephen Fry, comedian Dara O'Briain, political commentator David Frum and gorgeous-but-uber-brainy poker-player-and-presenter Victoria Coren) because otherwise there'd simply be too much to read. I've learned a few things about each of those people. Stephen Fry was disappointed at Norwich City's exit from the FA Cup. Victoria Coren exited the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure with a pair of 7s against Ace-King. David Frum summarised my own comments from yesterday far more succintly and professionally than I ever could. It's amazing to me how the things they are talking about are a microcosm of the things that you and I do (the Caribbean aside, so far at least) and really brings home to you how real their lives are and the things that we as people all have in common.

I was going to do a piece today about the how the Arizona killings compare with attacks on MPs in Britain, but I'll save that now for next time. I have to go and tweet about how I've just done the washing up.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Should we fear the Fox Network?

I had one of those moments today when something seemingly inconsequential you hear from a stranger suddenly rings bells in your head when you watch the news.

If you have read my entries below, you will know that I fear for the objectiveness of the British media in the event of the government allowing Rupert Murdoch to seize control of BSkyB and start up a Fox-News style channel containing little more than veiled political rhetoric.

I attended a NetRoots conference today about the future of social media in the transformation of British politics. Ari Rabin-Havt gave a presentation on the activities of the Fox Network and their insidous anchorman, Glenn Beck.

For those of you who don't know, Ari Rabin-Havt is the vice president of an organisation called Media Matters. The organisation, based in the US and employing eighty full-time staff, is responsible for examining the claims of the ultra-right-wing Conservative media in the US and determining whether they are acting on the basis of genuine information.

The videos he showed of Beck demonstrate him to be an evangelical figure who is both deluded and dangerous. His nonsensical rants deride political opponents as racists and fascists without any evidence of any kind to back up his assertions. If that had been the end of the story, I could laugh off his nonsense and would have cheerfully forgotten him by morning.

The shooting earlier today of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords may seem to mean little to a British audience but the left-wing American blogosphere has already gone to town, blaming Glenn Beck's explosive rhetoric as being directly responsible for the shooter's actions. Last year, Sarah Palin, infamous member of the right-wing Tea Party organisation in the US, marked Giffords with crosshairs on a map in her campaign to target certain politicians and remove them from power. That image is now being repeatedly reproduced across America and will make uncomfortable viewing for right-wing American politicians over tomorrow morning's breakfast bagels.

What role then, has the Fox Network played in today's tragic deaths? We may believe that the network cannot possibly be held responsible for spontaneous acts of bloodshed by viewers. But be that as it may, this incident shows the need for careful consideration of the images and language used to attack political opponents. The potential consequences of demonising one's enemy are only too apparent from the massacre in Arizona.

Friday, 7 January 2011

To Beard or Not To Beard

New year, new beard. It's an unorthadox way to begin, but I'm running it over in my head now on a daily basis. One day I like it, one day I don't. I might shave my head, lose the burns and keep the Cesar, like the latino gangsters on CSI Miami who growl things like 'Ese' and 'Cabron'. Then again, I could shave the mo and go barn-building with the Amish.

Some say that it suits me because it defines my chin (i.e. differentiates it from my neck) while others have a damn good laugh and ask if they can hide in it. A few hairs in the moustache are definitely ginger-coloured, and I can't work out if that's better or worse than grey.

How does the beard dilemma come about? In England (on the off chance I ever have any continental readers) we have a thing called Movember - basically, for the entire month of November, the sturdy Englishman refuses to shave his moustache (or in the modern parlance, his 'mo') in the name of charity. A couple of months ago, the TV cameras at Look East strolled round Norwich to find the best mo, and they found contenders with just the mo, some with goatees and some with whiskers as bushy as Brian Blessed poking his head out of a rhodedendron. Doubtful but resigned girlfriends lingered in the background, unsure as to when their loved one suddenly started to look like a cricketer from the 1880s.

I didn't participate in Movember. For a start, I didn't hear about it until the month was all but over, and most of the people I know are women (and there's no polite way to ask a girl if she's growing a moustache on purpose, or whether it just happens that way.) A guy at work who carefully cultivates his mo and keeps it regularly waxed at the corners like Evil Roy Gato suggested that I couldn't even grow a beard at my tender age. I may indeed have skin as soft as the proverbial baby's bottom and be a regular victim of any kind of reverse psychology, but I knew an insult to my manhood when I saw one.

Thus, I am a man. I can grow a beard, and never have before, so this is my rite of passage. No amused shaking of a head or concern over lack of style shall sway me from my beardy path. With every day, it spreads further, absorbing more ground, like a furry facial forestfire. When will it end? Friends, only when I am cast as the villain in a Hollywood movie. For if there's one thing we can say about bearded Englishmen, they never get to play the good guy.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Inspired Moments in 2010

I know, it's a little late to be feeding back on last year when it's already five days into the new one, but it is traditional amongst writers to look at their past when shaping their prose and it's part of human nature to tackle new experiences by reflecting on what has gone before. So here is 2010, summed up in a few short paragraphs.

Fortunately, I was already past the boundary of being thirty-something, so my age officially holds no fears for me for another few years yet. People tell me that the older you get, the more you become aware of the passing of time, and perhaps that is the case for me in the last twelve months. As I saunter through life at my own practically-comatose pace, my friends and loved ones get married, get divorced, have children, travel to the furthest corners of the globe (and come back, with stories about how we can't really complain about the weather here) things. I have allowed my life to become too much of a spectator sport in 2010, and this will change in 2011.

This is not to say that the time I have spent has been wasted. I have laughed, loved and followed the news. I have read new things, listened to new songs, discovered new things that I enjoy. I am a newly qualified accounting technician. I have gone from a vague dream of wanting to one day own a fishtank to a fully-fledged aquarist in a few months. Those same fishtanks were paid for with poker winnings, and to those who say I could have earned the money far more quickly stacking shelves, I am given to understand that doing that in my underwear would be frowned upon.

To continue the fish theme, I have also eaten a lot of sushi. But then, I can always eat more.

2010 has seen unremarkable people do remarkable things. By the mere fact of their survival, 33 Chilean miners became the focus of media attention around the world and have gone on to become internationally known and acknowledged as a symbol of hope and mankind's ability to overcome seemingly impossible odds.

My goals are simple and small. I have set myself three targets for the coming year. In no particular order, these are:

1) Travel outside Europe. This will be tricky without money to do so, but thanks to the encouraging efforts of a couple of good friends and a degree of monetary self-control, I'm hoping to visit Egypt before the summer.

2) Learn (another) new hobby. I want to become a competent photographer and this year's poker winnings will be diverted towards a second-hand starter camera of real quality so that I have the tools of an interesting new trade.

3) Learn a little more about love. Sounds silly (and it is, a bit) but 2010 has been a year of lovers rather than love, and I want to get out of my comfort zone and have something to smile about during 2011.